Football: Home front fails to inspire Chelsea

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Everton 1 Chelsea 1

ASK A Chelsea supporter whether he or she would prefer to win the Premiership or the Champions' League and most would nod in the direction of the domestic prize. It is more than 40 years since the title was won and while Europe has its many attractions, there is still no place like home.

Pity the players do not seem to be similarly inclined, because the way they are performing in the bread-and-butter matches the title will be an unlikely wish for Christmas long before the decorations go up, never mind down. Since slaughtering Manchester United on 3 October they have picked up only two points from five Premiership matches and even in the unlikely event that they won their two matches in hand, they would still be six off the pace.

Frankly they are lucky to be even that close, because this result was an injustice secured only because Everton decided to go on a goodwill mission in injury time. Chelsea deserve due credit for securing a draw when they were a man short for 33 minutes thanks to Frank Leboeuf's dismissal, but even that could not blind you to the fact the home side were comprehensively the better side.

The impression left was of a Chelsea side who curiously reflect the over-rated team of the Sixties and Seventies who could rise to the occasion, but rarely so week after week. Nearly 30 years on, the current squad is far stronger but still lacks consistency.

That was reflected in manager Gianluca Vialli's post-match comments. "Sometimes we are accused of playing football and not fighting enough," he said. "Today it was the opposite." A balance would be nice, as Vialli is fully aware. "I'm not the happiest man in the world knowing we are 12 points behind," he added. "But there are enough matches and I would be surprised if Chelsea are not near the top in a couple of months."

Anyone who has been watching football on Merseyside recently would be agog if they were, because the Londoners have reserved their worst performances of the season for the region. Against Liverpool they had Marcel Desailly and Dennis Wise sent off and on Saturday Leboeuf followed for two clumsy tackles from behind.

His lack of control was typical of the general sloppiness that invaded Chelsea's performance. For the Everton goal Desailly and Albert Ferrer did not perform even the most basic of defensive tasks - moving across to mark players when Leboeuf was drawn to the flank - and when Alex Cleland crossed to Francis Jeffers, Kevin Campbell was isolated on the right of the area.

He duly tucked away his fifth goal in four matches and used that as a platform thoroughly to discomfort Leboeuf, who barely won a ball in the air. Half chances rather than the 24-carat variety fell Everton's way but they still should have disappeared over Chelsea's horizon long before they became victim to fatigue and collective madness in the second minute of stoppage time.

Jeffers hit a pass short, panic spread like a plague, and when Cleland stopped a corner by lobbing the ball back into the area, Tore Andre Flo, who had been denied a goal by a tremendous reflex save from Paul Gerrard in Chelsea's only other meaningful attack, cracked a precise volley inside the near post.

Goodison groaned, a programme flew past the press box and landed 20 yards ahead, and sheer frustration broke out. It even manifested itself in Walter Smith, whose feelings normally lie hidden behind the deadpan. "That's shite," he growled when someone tried to deaden the pain with reference to an unbeaten run. "That's no consolation at all.

"We've drawn with Manchester United, Leeds and Chelsea here this season and we've got to start winning those matches if we're going to take the next step." How could he do that? "Simple, just buy some players," he said chuckling ironically at the club's impoverished financial position. "You don't come from round here, do you?"

You might wonder why the Everton manager declined the chance to use a substitute when players were tiring, but nevertheless Smith is performing wonders with a squad that had pounds 15m worth of players stripped from it at the start of the season. If Chelsea were squeezing the same ratio of performance from the available talent, they would be miles ahead in the Premiership, not lagging behind.

Goals: Campbell (14) 1-0; Flo (90) 1-1.

Everton: Gerrard; Cleland, Dune, Gough Unsworth; Barmby, Xavier, Hutchison, Pembridge; Jeffers, Campbell. Substitutes not used: Simonsen (gk), Ball, Collins, Gemmill, Grant.

Chelsea: De Goey; Ferrer (Hogh, 81), Desailly, Leboeuf, Babayaro; Petrescu (Zola, 51), Morris, Deschamps, Ambrosetti (Di Matteo, 2); Sutton, Flo. Substitutes not used: Cudicini (gk), Harley.

Referee: M Halsey (Welwyn Garden City).

Bookings: Everton: Hutchison, Pembridge; Chelsea: Sutton, Ferrer. Sending off: Chelsea: Leboeuf.

Man of the match: Campbell.

Attendance: 38,225.